Who are the significant mentors and teachers in your life?
Did you interact with them in person? Or maybe your paths never crossed directly, but their work and teaching had a significant impact on your life.
I’m dedicating this practice to the memory of one of my beloved teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, who died on Jan. 22, 2022, at age 95 in his homeland of Vietnam. (I originally posted this a few days after that.)
Like many of his students I called him Thay, meaning teacher. I had the great good fortune of being in Thay’s presence in the mid-1990s; he came to Israel to teach and lead retreats here. And the practice I’m writing about here is that very same practice he taught us on those retreats. (At the end of this post, you’ll find the link to my guided practice.)
This practice is so deceptively simple, many people wonder if it can really help us tackle the staggering problems of the world?
Well, if you read Thay’s biography, you’ll know that his answer is YES.
Consider what he did in his lifetime:
Thay developed the concept of “engaged Buddhism”, the idea that mindfulness – the capacity to be aware of what is going on, right here, right now – can inform every moment of the day, not just those moments we set aside for explicit meditation. From that powerful base, you can develop practical solutions to the issues and injustices of the modern world.
He taught the concept of “interbeing” – that all beings of all kinds – rocks, minerals, plants, animals and people, the entire planet – are interconnected. This concept has inspired environmentalists around the world.
He was a peace activist. This almost cost him his life during the Vietnam War, when the regimes of both the North and the South considered him a traitor and wanted to kill him, a fate suffered by many of his colleagues. His work for peace inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Sometimes we think that simple means too easy, too basic, to make a difference. It’s like we sometimes think that non-doing, being, which is what we practice over and over in these practices, means doing nothing. So consider the fact that Thay wrote more than 100 books, became fluent in 8 languages, taught at both Princeton and Columbia, and created mindfulness centers all around the world. He’s one of the influential figures who brought mindfulness into the mainstream in the West. He influenced millions of people around the world.
One of the reasons I personally found Thay’s messages so compelling is that he lived what he taught about staying calm in the midst of violence.
“If I could not be peaceful in the midst of danger,” he said, the peace I might realize in easier times would not mean anything”.
I’ve heard other mindfulness teachers speak about this, but they never went through what he had: deportation, threats of death, and becoming a refugee. I couldn’t easily dismiss him the way I could the others, by saying, well, they’ve never been tested.
He was tested.
So when he taught: “Other people can occupy your country, they can even put you in prison, but they cannot take away your true home and your freedom”, I knew that this was someone who lived what he taught. It may seem simple, but it’s powerful. Here’s the practice Thay taught us:
You focus on a set of phrases, which Thay called ‘gathas’; think of them as ‘wisdom statements’.
You either repeat the whole phrase, or just the key words of each, which you’ll find at the end of each set. Whichever speaks to you most.
Breathing in, I know I’m breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I’m breathing out. (in / out)
Breathing in, my breathing grows deep.
Breathing out, my breathing grows slow (deep / slow)
Breathing in, I calm my mind and body.
Breathing out, my mind and body are at ease. (calm / ease)
Breathing in, I smile – at my joy, even at my suffering.
Breathing out, I release. This is a practice of freeing, of freedom.
(smile / release)
Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, it’s a wonderful moment.
(present moment / wonderful moment)
Before you finish reading this and move on, perhaps take a moment to reflect on anything you may have learned, noticed, and felt, as you read through it. Appreciate yourself for taking this time to pause and reflect. Appreciate that doing this serves you, as well as everyone around you.
And, if a particular mentor or teacher has come to mind, appreciate his/her role in your life, maybe silently to yourself, or maybe you can actually write a note or make a call to express it for real.
Today I express my eternal gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh, to Thay, for his teachings, and for the peaceful radiance
he brought into the world, which will continue to shine even after his physical passing.
Yehi Zichro Baruch. May his memory be a blessing and bless us all.
Here’s the link to the guided practice:https://www.dropbox.com/
Note: Please download the recording onto your computer as I delete these recordings from Dropbox from time to time to make room for new recordings.
One final note: I’m always happy to hear from you. Write to me at email@example.com
What’s important to you? What questions do you have? That way, I’ll know how to serve you better.
Also, let me know if you to be on the list to get free recordings of mindfulness practices like the one, twice a week.
Be safe and healthy,